A Company Policy on Internet Sex
BY WILLIAM F. SWIGGART
The expansion of the Internet throughout the world is bringing both opportunities and problems for companies. The Wall Street Journal has identified sex on the Internet as the latest problem: employees with modems on their desks and too much time on their hands log into "forums" that enable them to trade pornography real time and worldwide on company time.
While no court has yet held a company in loco parentis for its employees, personal use of company equipment during business hours for sexual purposes can disrupt business, harm productivity, and alarm any management concerned to avoid the type of sexual atmosphere that leads courts to award damages in sexual harassment lawsuits.
New Personnel Policy
One company recently added the following to its Personnel manual in order to obtain the means of limiting such activities among its employees:
- Purpose: To state the Company's policy regarding employee use of Company's facilities for sexually laden communications. As an adjunct to the company's sexual harassment policy, this policy is intended to prevent a sexually "hostile" work environment, and to forestall nonproductive behavior.
- Scope: All employees
- Policy: It is Company's policy to prohibit the use of Company's communications facilities by employees for the description or solicitation of sexual activities.
- Definitions: "Communications facilities" are defined as Company's electronic mail and network facilities, copy machines, computers and telephones.
"Description or solicitation of sexual activities" is defined as the copying, downloading, distribution, dissemination or communication of data, whether as text, graphics or voice, and whether in electronic, encoded, analog, or printed form, that describe, depict or solicit human sexual acts. Examples include, without limitation, calls to '900' telephone numbers and electronic mail communications of pornographic stories.
- Sanctions: Any employee who misuses Company's communications facilities as proscribed above may incur disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.
While the foregoing policy might be considered distasteful, the alternative, a more general proscription against behavior found to be offensive, could be held unenforceably vague and overbroad. It thus seems wise to err on the side of specificity even in this case.
Caveat: Implementing such a policy does not entitle a company to invade personal files and voice mail messages for which the employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such a practice would fall subject to First Amendment considerations that lie beyond the scope of this article.
Comment: Consider implementing a personnel policy now that addresses head on the issue of employee use of company equipment for personal, sexual purposes in order to head off later productivity, morale and , possibly, legal problems for your company .
© ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT GENERAL COUNSEL 1995; (all rights reserved). This article is not intended as legal advice. Consult a qualified attorney for assistance concerning a specific issue or problem.